For the second straight year Holton’s Heroes was honored to be able to sponsor three campers at Camp Cranium, located along the picturesque Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.
Camp Cranium caters to children ages 6-18 who deal with some type of neurological impairment. The camp gives these amazing children an opportunity to participate in summer activities often reserved for the most able-bodied individuals. Every camper that attends takes part in the typical summer camp activities, from rock climbing to zip-lining to swimming to good old fashion cook-outs. It’s an incredible place like no other and Holton’s Heroes is in awe of the staff and volunteers that keep this yearly week-long operation going.
Each summer Camp Cranium hosts kids who have survived strokes, drownings, brain tumors and even abuse. Often children like this are ostracized or simply unable to be supported at these types of physical programs, but at Camp Cranium they are literally welcomed with open arms.
Campers form lasting friendships, improve their self-confidence and independence, and achieve goals they—and their parents—didn't believe were possible. “Building ongoing social networks and support with our families, children, and volunteers has been incredible to watch, grow, and develop over the years. This inclusive group represents a sense of family keeping us all connected in this journey. To see this be a nucleus of support for kids and their families is, I think, the biggest accomplishment of camp over the past 10 years,” Camp Cranium Board VP Sarah Krusen told us.
Let's learn more about our three happy campers below:
On May 12, 2011 Meghan Shupp received a phone call from a social worker asking if she and her husband would be interested in fostering a 15-month old child with a traumatic brain injury. “She had been struck in the head by someone or something while in the care of her biological family and had a skull fracture with bleeding on the brain,” Meghan wrote to us. “She also had a black eye.”
The family claimed Alana simply fell off of a couch but doctors all agreed the injuries sustained couldn’t have come from a short fall from a couch. Ultimately the family lost custody of their daughter and that’s when the Shupp’s sprang into action.
“We immediately said ‘Yes!’ and went to the local children’s hospital to meet the child who would become our daughter.” Meghan recalls. “The social worker told me not to be upset if Alana didn’t come to me right away, but as soon as I entered the hospital room and sat down, Alana came right to me. [It was as if] she knew I would protect her.”
Alana was not talking at the time, had issues eating and swallowing and was just regaining her balance to learn to walk again. Alana was transferred to a rehabilitation facility for the next two weeks.
“My husband and I took turns traveling from Pennsylvania to New Jersey everyday to be with her while she was working through her rehabilitation,” Meghan recalls. “After almost three years of being her foster parents, we adopted Alana in December of 2013.”
Most people think Alana is a normal, hyperactive kid with behavior problems and endless energy. But the truth is, Alana is a brain injury survivor that struggles with various learning difficulties. “I hope one day she is a successful adult who is happy in life. I hope she has meaningful relationships and is able to support herself, but right now it’s hard for her to maintain friendships because of her behavior,” Meghan admits.
Alana’s time at Camp Cranium is one that is truly priceless. Her behavior issues seem to disappear the moment she steps foot on the grounds. Counselors, especially her favorite one Ali, give her nonstop attention—and she loves it. Most importantly, she gets to be with other kids who don’t judge her.
This past summer was Alana’s third year at camp. Her favorite activity at camp is the big dance (check her out in the photos below). She loves the music, dancing and getting dressed up for the big night out. Alana’s goals for the summer was to be able to climb the rock walk and to participate in the talent show.
“I was a U.S Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan,” Kai’s father John told us. “Her mom and I were married for about a year before Kai was born perfect and healthy in Japan on November 6th, 2003.”
However, everything changed less than two years later on June 26th, 2005.
Kai's parents had been separated at the time, but John was still working in Okinawa as a government contractor. “I received a call from the Naval Hospital,” John recalls. “I rushed on base to find out that Kai had been injured. I first thought she might have fallen or something, but shortly after arriving the doctors told me that it was shaken baby.”
John believes that his ex-wife or her boyfriend at the time had caused the injury to Kai. Neither have ever been prosecuted.
“It is honestly a miracle that Kai is even with us today,” John admits. “She received last rights in the hospital and I even had to make funeral arrangements [for my daughter].”
However, being the tough kid that Kai is known to be, she pulled through the night. John’s mother immediately flew to Okinawa to be there with John and Kai. The three of them ended up living in the hospital in Okinawa for one month, before being medically flown to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where they stayed for another two months.
Incredible Fact: Former President Bush personally flew John, Kai and Kai’s grandmother out on a military aircraft, so they could leave Okinawa for a stateside hospital that was much better equipped for Kai’s brain injury.
At CHOP, Kai had part of her skull surgically placed back after doctors had to remove the right side of her skull in Okinawa due to excessive swelling in her brain.
As Kai began the long road to recovery, she had to learn everything all over again. She is now paralyzed on the left side of her body and has never been able to use her left arm since she was injured. John told us that Kai’s had to endure over 22 surgeries over the years which have included tendon releases and rods surgically placed in her hip. As if Kai’s life isn’t hard enough, they recently learned she is also deaf in her right ear. John’s quick to point out that this is all due to someone mindlessly shaking his innocent daughter.
Today, Kai attends a special needs school in Westville, NJ and absolutely loves her time there. On the school grounds she’s known as “the Mayor”—and for obvious reasons.
Additionally, Kai has been attending Camp Cranium for the past 6 years and it means the world to her. Without a doubt, John knows It is the highlight of Kai’s year every summer. “She just loves being around all the kids and counselors,” John told us.
Some of the counselors at Camp Cranium have actually known Kai since she was first flown to CHOP at almost 2 years old. John told us it brings him great relief to know exactly who she’s with each summer. John also tells us that Camp Cranium is truly like extended family and when she comes home that’s all he hears about for the rest of summer.
John and Kai’s journey has not been easy and John openly admits that he feels like he broke a promise to his daughter to always protect her, much like he did for his Marines during his multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. Obviously, we all know he’s not to blame for her injury, but instead the reason she’s able to excel today. We are proud of you John—and proud to support such an incredible young woman.
In July of 2016, Ronan suffered a traumatic brain injury after being struck in the head with a bocce ball while on the beach.
Ronan was airlifted from the beach to Cooper Hospital where he went into cardiac arrest 12 hours after being admitted. His heart stopped three separate times in 45 minutes and ultimately Ronan was placed on life-support.
“The transport team and ECMO team from Dupont Hospital came and transported Ronan to DuPont where he coded again,” Ronan’s mother Meghan told us. “The next day he underwent open-heart surgery to remove the venous cannulas from his legs to his main arteries, as he was not perfusing property and was at risk of losing one of his legs.”
Miraculously he was removed from life-support only two days later and was able to keep both of his legs.
When Ronan woke up from his medically induced coma he had significant injuries as a result of the initial brain bleed. Ronan also suffered hypoxic damage from the cardiac arrest. Incredibly he was still able to communicate and read.
“Unfortunately, a few days later Ronan had a seizure and lost consciousness,” Meghan recalls of that first week. “During an emergency CT scan it was discovered that he had an aneurysm that developed at the site of the injury and it was literally bleeding out.”
A surgeon from Christiana Hospital came to DuPont the next day and performed artery dissection surgery. Ronan’s aneurysm was in the middle of two blood vessels, so the surgeon had to sacrifice a major artery in the back of Ronan’s brain to save his life.
Ronan could hardly move and didn’t speak for weeks. However, he worked incredibly hard and was able to regain his speech, the ability to eat, swallow, stand, walk and eventually run.
Ronan’s mother tells us that he’s been steadily improving since that time and is back in a modified program at school while living relatively independently at home.
“We are so hopeful that he will continue to recover and live and independent life,” Meghan told us.
Last summer was Ronan’s first year at Camp Cranium. His parents were beyond excited for him to have this experience of independence and socialization with other kids who face similar challenges. Ronan has struggled a great deal socially since his injury and his family is hopeful that his time at camp will be a confidence builder for him.
What made his summer experience the extra-special was that his 11-year-old sister Maeve was able to attend camp with him. “We’re so grateful that Camp Cranium is providing Maeve this opportunity to see her brother from another perspective and facilitate the continued development of empathy for Ronan‘s disabilities and children with brain injury related disabilities in general,” Meghan confided in us.
Possibly the most amazing part of Ronan’s story, is that he and his family have started their own nonprofit called The Project GreenHeart Foundation, which provides support bags for teenage patients during long-term hospital stays.
If you’d like to donate directly to Camp Cranium to help children with brain injuries attend their camp each summer, you can do so here.
Check out some photo highlights of Alana's, Kai’s, and Ronan’s time at Camp Cranium this summer (below).
Photo credits: Camp Cranium